The Bean Trees | Study Guide

Barbara Kingsolver

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The Bean Trees | Chapter 12 : Into the Terrible Night | Summary



On July 12, Mattie takes Taylor, Esperanza, and Estevan out into the desert. She says it is New Year's Day, which the Native Americans who previously lived in the region celebrated on the day of the first summer rainfall. Everything looks dried up and dead, but Mattie tells them that "all the things that looked dead were just dormant." They watch the storm approach, delight in the rain, experiences the heady smells it brings, and marvel at the changes it creates throughout the desert.

When Taylor gets home, she realizes something terrible has happened while she was in the desert. Lou Ann waits for Taylor on the porch and tells her that Edna Poppy had taken Turtle to the park, and being blind, hadn't realized it had gotten dark. Edna heard the sounds of Turtle struggling against someone and had hit the person with her cane, saving Turtle. The police come with a social worker, but Taylor is distracted by Virgie Mae Parsons trying to chase a songbird out of the house. In the days following the event, Taylor does not handle the stress well, withdrawing from Turtle in favor of time at work despite sleepless nights. Lou Ann continues to chastise Taylor for not being there for Turtle, and Taylor finally explains that all she feels is despair because "[t]here's just so damn much ugliness."


Although Turtle is physically fine, she remains in a catatonic state for several days, returning to the way she was when she first joined Taylor. Turtle's suffering and her regression has a strong effect on Taylor, who had truly believed that she could keep Turtle safe from the kind of tragic events the girl had experienced in her childhood. Taylor's reaction is to withdraw physically and emotionally, avoiding the intense conversation with the police and social worker that recount what happened and then throwing herself into work. Taylor is unable to support Turtle in the way that Turtle most needs at that moment.

Taylor's difficulty processing the event and its aftermath stem from her feelings of helplessness and lack of control, as shown by her outbursts to Lou Ann at the end of the chapter. Taylor has, until this point, been able to remain largely in control of her life and to exert her will to achieve what she wants. In her new life, however, Taylor has begun to become aware of all of the horrible things happening in the world and over which she has no control. She cannot help the people who pass through Mattie's on the run from their home countries as well as from U.S. immigration enforcement. She cannot help the people who are living on the street, nor their children who don't have enough to eat. She cannot erase Turtle's past any more than she could have prevented the incident in the park. The attack in the park causes Taylor to question whether she should even try to be a mother to Turtle if she cannot protect her. Lou Ann provides the only possible counter to Taylor's despair. Lou Ann tells Taylor that nobody is really up to the job of motherhood. Taylor is no better and no worse than any other mother, with no more or less control over what happens to their child.

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